What It Means to Be a Man

While we may not explicitly perpetuate the idea of toxic masculinity, we may be doing it subconsciously.

What does it mean to be a man?

For many, it’s about burying your emotions, being the ‘head of the family’, being the strong, sturdy, masculine figure everyone can rely on. At least that’s the stereotypes usually placed on men. Though they may not be necessarily negative in nature, these expectations that define what it means to be a man can be disruptive to our mental health. 

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the term toxic masculinity before. According to the New York Times, “toxic masculinity is the result of teaching boys that they can’t express emotions openly; that they’ve to be tough all the time; that anything other than that makes them ‘feminine’ or weak”. And while we may be moving away from the toxicity of this particular area, are we really moving away from the expectations that are set on men?

Let’s be real: Society has created specific expectations or some sort of rule book of what being a man (or even a woman) should be. No matter how far we think we’ve run away from it, toxic masculinity is ever-present in the most subtle ways, because that’s how the majority of us were raised to be. But a step forward, no matter how small, is still a step forward. So, here today, I’d like to make my step forward and end any sort of toxic masculinity or expectations set by telling you, all the men reading this, that no matter who you are, what you like to do, and how you behave, you’re a man. No expectations, no requirements, no frills — just a man.

Before I share my thoughts on what we can do, it’s important to understand the stereotypes of what being a man is. Does being a man mean you have to be totally ripped and hit the gym every day? Does it mean you’re expected to work hard every day to provide for your family? Does it mean to constantly withstand the negative remarks of being a pervert or a rapist? 

Although I don’t at all condone the actions that caused these stereotypes, there’s no smoke without a fire. While there are, undoubtedly, men who’ve done some very bad things in the past, that doesn’t qualify as a reason for generalisations like 'all men are the same’ or ‘boys will be boys’ to be made. This is where the fundamental problem lies. If it’s made to seem like this is the way men are, then it’ll become an excuse within society that it should be normal, even when it’s not okay, for men to be this way. 

And what about those who’ve done nothing at all — a perfect gentleman if you will. Having to live up with different expectations from different people while dealing with negative suggestions made because you're a man, takes a significant toll on our mental health. And we don’t talk about this enough.

Why? This circles back to our conversation on toxic masculinity where there’s still a large portion of society that are brought up to believe that it’s ‘unmanly' to have mental health issues or show any signs of emotional weakness.

That’s why I’m here to challenge what has happened. 

What It Means to Be a Man

Why should men, or anyone for that matter, be any certain way? Why can’t they just be whoever they want to be, no judgement involved? Shouldn’t that be acceptable and enough?

There are two ways we, as a society, can do in order to end this whole phase of toxic masculinity and male stereotypes altogether.

Taylorian Jonathan shares what it’s like tackling the biggest stigma faced by men here.

The Importance of Your Values

Firstly, a boy only becomes a man based on the values he’s raised with.

Let me be clear here and state that everyone has their own values. Some come from what you learn from your parents or even teachers and friends in school as you grow up, and the others are the ones you choose for yourself. These values, regardless of who you are, become the personality that defines you and can change throughout your life. There’s never a time where it’s ‘too late’ to change what you value in yourself regardless whether it’s a value you were taught or one that you chose to adopt. 

That being said, the importance of raising children with the right mindset and values cannot be overstated. Making certain negative actions open and okay in day-to-day conversation, like objectifying women or commenting how men should look or act a certain way (e.g. not showing any form of emotion), would make children believe it’s okay to be that way.

What can we do to change things? The answer lies in the way awareness is raised on these issues.

If you see a friend crying, regardless of their gender or who they are, and you say something along the lines of “don't be a p*ssy” or “you’re such a girl!”, then you’re associating the act of showing vulnerable emotions to femininity (as if it’s a negative trait) which is the root cause of this problem in society.

This is what will lead men to laugh off certain situations when they feel any sort of emotions detrimental to their mental health, even when done subconsciously. That being said, there have been notable efforts on awareness through social media postings, and even professionally by psychologists and counsellors, where the recipients of this awareness would be late teenagers and older. But is that too late?

What It Means to Be a Man

In my opinion, this awareness needs to be raised to children in their formative years as this kind of social scarring, which I’ve personally experienced in the form of bullying in my younger years, can come at the age when children begin playing in sandpits at school. Consequences of actions and the lessons that should be learnt from the past must be the main focus to give a clear definition of what is right and wrong to do as a man.

But is right and wrong really that black and white? This brings me to my next point.

Accountability of Actions

Right and wrong can in some situations be a relative concept, subject to different opinions. The constant, however, to all of this is responsibility. Regardless of whether an action is right or wrong, everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions. In the past, there may have been men that have gotten away with some very bad actions leading to the generalisations of men. 

Taking responsibility doesn’t just mean admitting to your actions — that's acceptance. Responsibility means that for everything you say or do, you accept it and face the consequences for it, positive or negative. But it doesn't end there.

Just because you've taken responsibility doesn’t mean you’re good to go. Learn from your mistakes and develop your strengths even further. The journey, not only for men but for everyone, is to grow as a person every day and work towards developing and achieving your goals.

This and other Men’s Health Awareness month, or Movember, shouldn’t just be about keeping a beard or a moustache, it’s about understanding what really makes and defines a man.

This isn't only for all the men out there, but to every single one of us.

You’ve the opportunity to make sure that the men around you know they’re good enough, they’re happy, and can be whoever they want to be while doing your part in raising awareness.

What It Means to Be a Man

I’ll leave you with this advice: When you say you want to be a man, don’t become a man based on anyone's expectation. Rather, be a man of value, whatever that value is to you. This is what makes you a man, but being a good man then depends on what values you choose!

Ali Moossajee is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Quantity Surveying (Hons) at Taylor's University. He is the President of the Taylor’s SHINE Ambassadors, President of the Taylor’s Wine & Dine Club, a senior Taylor’s Global Ambassador, as well as a Unibuddy Ambassador.